Based in San Diego, California, Cleer Audio was founded by a group of audio enthusiasts experienced in the industry with the vision to forge their own path through innovative design by creating products focusing on performance and style
Inspired by functionality and minimalism, Cleer’s wireless headphones and smart audio speakers fulfil the listener’s expectations by delivering the highest standards in sound quality and craftsmanship.
The Arc II is an “open air” earhook style earbud. It is their latest model and is an upgraded version of the original Arc featuring a more powerful 16.2mm Neodymium driver with a graphene diaphragm, Bluetooth 5.3, Snapdragon Sound and improved comfort. It retails for $200.
The Arc II comes attractively presented in a compact rectangular box with a white slip cover bearing a full-colour image of the product, along with branding and various logos denoting the salient features.
Removing the slip cover reveals a plain brown box with the legend “Own the Moment” in a plain bold font. Inside this you will find the charging case containing the earbuds along with a USB-A to USB-C charging cable (which is rather short) and an instruction manual. In all the package contains:
- Cleer Arc II earbuds
- Charging case
- USB-A to USB-C charging cable
- Instruction manual
Build and Design
The charging case is a flattened oval shape and quite slim, fitting neatly in a pocket or bag. It is covered in a stylish tweed-like fabric and has a USB-C port on the rear. Inside, the earbuds sit in their ports which connect to charging points underneath. The earbuds can operate for 8 hours on one charge and the case provides up to 27 hours extra playtime when fully charged. The case also features a UV-C light which sanitizes the earbuds when they are returned to the case.
The buds themselves are solidly built from a durable plastic material and feature an earhook decorated with a striped design. The earpieces are hinged for easy fitting and feature channel identification on the inner surface, where the speaker output grille can be seen. The front of the earpieces have Cleer branding.
Comfort and Isolation
Once fitted correctly, I found the Arc II very comfortable. When the earpieces were in the correct position on the ear, I almost forgot the earbuds were there on occasion. However, I did find it somewhat tricky to getting them to fit snugly. Being an “open-air” design allowing external sounds to be heard, isolation is minimal and thus impacts on bass performance, but this is to be expected with earbuds.
The Cleer+ App
The Cleer+ app can be downloaded from the QR code printed in the instruction manual. Once downloaded, it connected quickly and efficiently to my Samsung smartphone and updated the firmware to the latest version.
The app is fairly simple and straightforward to use. The main page shows the charge status of each bud plus the powered level in the case. Below this there is a step counter (pedometer) display showing the total steps taken while wearing the buds, followed by a control panel for this function.
Next is a panel to select Smart Sport EQ and below this is the equaliser control panel. Tapping this brings up a selection of pre-programmed profiles which are:
- Sport Eq
*The custom EQ features a five band equaliser with centre frequencies of 64Hz, 250Hz, 2KHz, 4KHz and 8 KHz. A more comprehensive bandwidth would have been preferable here. During my testing I found the Flat and Classical presets gave the most pleasing results with my sources.
Finally, at the bottom of the page you will find a control panel with play/pause, next track and previous track buttons. A volume control on this page would be handy here as the user has to come out of the app and open a music player app to achieve this.
The interface was also fairly intuitive with standard gestures for play functions and volume control. Tapping the settings icon (gear wheel) gives access to further features, including Motion Control where head gestures can be set for call answering and music control.
The Arc II has Bluetooth v5.3 and supports the AAC, SBC, AptX Adaptive and AptX Lossless codecs. As mentioned above, Bluetooth connection was quick and secure. Occasionally, the left bud became disconnected but replacing the buds in the case and reconnecting was a simple remedy.
I used the Arc II with the Cleer+ app via a Samsung A14 smartphone and also used an Xduoo X20 DAP to evaluate the aptX codec. Via the Samsung the sound was stable and clear, but using aptX with the DAP resulted in a superior sound.
With the EQ set flat, via the Cleer+ app and the smartphone, the overall tonality was clean, clear and a little brighter than neutral. Because of the design, bass was a little lighter than ideal but this was to be expected compared to IEMs with their tight seal and isolation.
The midrange was open and detailed and treble extension was very good, although at times there was some harshness at high volumes. In general I found the timbre to be fairly natural and the overall effect well balanced.
The soundstage was expansive and typical of a good earbud with plenty of space between the instruments and the transients were fast and precise. Via aptX there was an increase in definition and soundstage with a smoother treble.
As mentioned earlier, the bass was light in nature but possessed good definition and there was no evidence of bleed into the midrange. The sub bass lacked weight and was somewhat rolled off but there was a pleasant warmth in the rest of the range.
A good example of this could be heard in “Accumulus”, the title track of the symphonic electronic album by Matthew Clifford. After the introduction, powerful drum beats appear. On the Arc II they showed good speed and impact but lacked the necessary weight to portray the intended effect. Similarly the deep bass accompaniment felt a little distant.
Classical music displayed the same character. In the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s version of Sibelius’s “The Swan of Tuonela” conducted by Osmo Vanska, the menacing bass drum rolls in the introduction lost some of their atmosphere and were further back in the mix, but still retained good detail. Further up the range, cellos and bassoons showed a natural timbre and excellent definition.
The midrange was the star of the show. Clean and well defined with excellent clarity, there was an openness allowing the music to breathe. This was due in part to the absence of bass bleed. Detail and separation were notable with lead voices and instruments nicely defined above their accompaniment and imaging of a high standard.
Eva Cassidy’s “Fields of Gold” was perfect material for the Arc II. Her voice was expressive, intimate and perfectly balanced with the guitar. The atmosphere of the live recording was captured authentically and the dynamic shading in Cassidy’s voice realistically conveyed the emotion of her performance.
Piano is always a good test for the accuracy of the midrange, and this proved true in “Mirror” by Helen Jane Long from her album “Embers”. The transient attack on the leading edges, the believable timbre and natural decay all combined to produce a faithful reproduction of the piece while the accompanying string effects with their fine detail provided a perfect backdrop.
The light bass tended to throw the upper frequencies forward a little, resulting in a general upward tilt to the profile. Occasionally at high volume the tonality became slightly “harder” but this was mainly due to the quality of the source. Via a DAP and aptX, the treble was smoother and more natural. Detail retrieval was very good and extension laudable, especially for a single drive unit.
“Galaxy Prime” appears on spacesuit maestro Jonn Serrie’s album “Thousand Star”. The track features Serrie’s trademark bass drones, melodic choral progressions and sparkling electronic effects. The latter were presented by the Arc II with precision, clarity and excellent separation, contrasting perfectly with the other elements and providing a sense of airiness and detail.
Because the full effect of the bass foundation was diminished, this resulted in some extra brightness but this did add to the sense of detail and space in the piece.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s version of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik” was nicely rendered by the Arc II with the smaller orchestral forces suiting its character well. Violins were bright and well defined and the Arc’s fine treble resolution made the most of the intricate counterpoint with the interplay between the various sections of the orchestra portrayed authentically.
Soundstage and Imaging
Being an “on-ear” open design, the staging was typical of a full size headset or traditional earbuds. It was spacious with good width, depth and height and displayed precise imaging. The separation between different elements was well-rendered and layering was of a high standard. It was easy to discern the layout of orchestras and the positioning of the members in a band.
The feeling of space and perspective in Holst’s “Saturn” from the “Planets” suite was palpable. Displaying excellent width and depth, the dramatic contrast of the different instrumental groups came over convincingly in Herbert von Karajan’s classic 1960’s Decca recording with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Timpani rolled threateningly, tubular bells clashed and brass snarled menacingly. The whole effect was very realistic with only the rolled off bass reducing the reproduction of the hall’s ambience.
“Direct” by the late, great Vangelis was one of his finest albums. “Elsewhere” begins softly and melodically. Then as the track builds, electronic effects swirl round the stage circling from right to left and back again and dramatic percussive effects build to a climax to announce the main theme. All this was reproduced excitingly by the Arc II with staging equal to full size headphones displaying effective movement and precise stereo imaging.
The Arc II is a product designed to provide high sound quality while allowing external sounds to be heard. In a market where ANC is “flavour of the month” this approach is different, but it does succeed in its purpose. However, at times, I did find in a noisy environment that it was more difficult to hear the details in the music. In this respect the “open air” design became something of a double-edged sword, a major feature which had a downside in certain situations.
In terms of performance, the Arc II possesses a clean, airy and detailed sound quality, impressive Bluetooth functioning and a comfortable fit. The earbuds remained securely in place when walking, although being of pensionable age, I did not test them with more strenuous activity! The partnering app is simple and intuitive with useful features but I felt some aspects could be improved.
Cleer’s design is unlike any other earbud I have tested, so it is difficult to make comparisons. The closest in tonality I have in my collection is the Smabat ST-10S (Black/Silver). Both share exceptional clarity and a natural timbre with a similar sound balance. It is only in the bass, where the Smabat’s innovative design produces a better extension, where the Arc II falls short.
If you are looking for a stylish wireless earbud solution and awareness of ambient sounds is important to you, the Cleer Arc II will suit your needs perfectly. It is well made and designed, has an impressive battery life and apart from bass-heavy material, the sound profile will adapt to most genres admirably. It therefore receives a solid recommendation.
- Driver: 16.2mm Neodymium Dynamic with graphene diaphragm
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz
- Type: Open-Ear True Wireless Earbuds
- Microphones: cVc 2-mic Beamforming
- Bluetooth Version: 5.3
- Codecs: AAC, SBC, AptX Adaptive, AptX Lossless
- Multipoint Connectivity: Yes
- Battery Life: 8hrs (35hrs with charging case)
- Charge Method: USB-C
- Weight: 14g (per earbud), 130g (earbuds and case)
- Quick Charge: 10min charge 1hr playtime